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Project on Government Oversight

POGO and Allies Warn Secretary of Energy of Dangerous Plutonium Plan

Dr. Steven Chu
Secretary of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20585

Mr. Thomas D’Agostino
Under Secretary for Nuclear Security & Administrator
National Nuclear Security Administration
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20585

RE: National Environmental Policy Act and Other Safety and Security Concerns Regarding Proposed Shipments of Plutonium Bomb Cores to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as Part of “Plan B,” also known as the draft “Revised Plutonium Strategy”

We, the forty-six local, regional, state and national organizations listed below, write to express our collective concern about an unnecessarily dangerous, potentially unlawful proposal to transport plutonium bomb cores from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.  

These plutonium bomb cores, often called pits, are by definition Category I/II special nuclear material items, requiring the highest level of security. The security designation at LLNL was formally downgraded from Category I/II to Category III on September 30, 2012.

As the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) press release of September 21, 2012 states, “the last of the Security Category I/II special nuclear material items that required the highest level of security at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been removed… resulting in an annual cost savings for taxpayers of approximately $40 million.” 

The reduction to Category III security at LLNL and the related cost savings includes shrinking the number of highly trained security personnel by 126 employees, according to the Modesto Bee in an article published September 25, 2012. Moreover, security weaponry at LLNL and training for the remaining personnel have likewise been significantly reduced or eliminated.

In sum, LLNL is no longer authorized to have, store or handle Category I/II special nuclear material items, including plutonium bomb cores arriving by truck from Los Alamos.

Plan B and the 5-year delay of the proposed plutonium “Nuclear Facility” at LANL

The non-governmental organizations signing this letter wish to emphasize their support for delaying the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement – Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos for 5-years as requested in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. We note that that the Nuclear Facility delay does not intrinsically require trucking plutonium pits to LLNL. The Nuclear Facility, without any delay, would not have been operational until 2022 at the earliest, yet the transport of bomb cores from LANL to LLNL could begin in the next year or so. Clearly, neither the Nuclear Facility nor its delay is the main driver behind the plan to send pits to LLNL.

Further, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted in its March 2012 report to Congress, “New Plutonium Research Facility at Los Alamos May Not Meet All Research Needs,” the Nuclear Facility was never intended to house the diagnostic that LLNL currently has (and to which “Plan B” would send plutonium pits). On page 19, the GAO states, “Because the [LANL Nuclear Facility] was not intended to support all of these capabilities, NNSA will need to find another location if this plutonium-related work currently being conducted at Livermore is to be continued.”

We note two important points in this regard: one, that the specific portion of “Plan B” that would send pits to LLNL must be disentangled from other portions of Plan B that are related to the Nuclear Facility delay; and, two, that the wording carefully chosen by GAO supports our contention that plutonium bomb core activities cannot and should not continue at LLNL following its reduction in security. 

The diagnostic in Building 334 at LLNL

The “Plan B” proposal to send plutonium bomb cores from LANL to LLNL aims to enable plutonium pits to undergo testing in a diagnostic currently housed in Building 334 at Livermore. The Building 334 Safety Analysis Report states that the diagnostic is used to simulate the conditions that a nuclear weapon core might undergo in a “storage, transportation or use environment.”  Following the diagnostic testing at LLNL, the pits would be loaded back onto trucks and transported again on three western states’ highways to Los Alamos (i.e., through CA, AZ, and NM).

The Safety Analysis Report further states that Building 334 is 27 meters wide by 21 meters deep, or approximately 1,860 square feet. Building 334 consists of two equal sized bays. The diagnostic is housed in one 930 square foot bay. It contains three main pieces: the shaker pit, drop test, and thermal chamber.  

According to the September 2012 DOE Office of the Inspector General report, “Inquiry into the De-Inventory of Special Nuclear Material at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” this particular diagnostic was closed down from 2005 until 2011 when NNSA re-instated the capability for use in theW76 Life Extension Program and other missions (page 2).

Both the diagnostic and the building size needed to house its three parts are small. We note that your agency examined moving the LLNL Building 334 operations as part of the October 2008 Final Complex Transformation Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. In that document, NNSA concluded it would take 4 trucks, four people to make building modifications, and two new hires at the Pantex facility in Texas, which was the agency’s “preferred alternative.” (Final CT PEIS, page 5-540). This was codified in the Final CT PEIS Record of Decision (page 77662, Vol. 71, No. 245, issued on December 19, 2008). At that point, however, the LLNL Building 334 pit diagnostic had not been fully operational for several years, and it was never moved.

As documented, the diagnostic was not used by NNSA for a period of about 6 years, from 2005-2011, although Los Alamos produced pits that were war reserve certified during that same period. This opens up the valid question of the “need” for this particular diagnostic at any location. Moreover, under any circumstance, the pit diagnostic should only be operated at a site that has regular Category I/II security and authorization to handle plutonium bomb cores.

Legal violations incurred by bringing plutonium bomb cores to LLNL

Federal officials have proposed imposing a "variance" from nuclear safety and security regulations at LLNL every time that plutonium pits arrive – which could be about six times a year according to one senior official. Thus far, “Plan B” does not openly discuss what it will mean for plutonium safety and security to enact regular "variances." Moreover, it is not clear that DOE NNSA has the legal authority to do so in the absence of any analysis done pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Federal agencies are required to integrate the NEPA process into their activities at the earliest possible time. Early applications of NEPA helps achieve the laws objectives. 40 C.F.R. 1501.1; 1501.2. Agencies must prepare NEPA documents before any irreversible or irretrievable commitment of resources. Conner v. Burford, 848 F.2d 1441 (9th Cir. 1988). A preliminary screening to determine if NEPA applies to a proposed federal action should take place when a federal agency begins planning a proposed action. 40 C.F.R. 1502.5. NEPA applies when a federal agency is actively proposing one or more alternative means of accomplishing a goal, and may even exist when a federal agency has not formally declared that one exists.

At LLNL, the Record of Decision for the site’s most recent Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) was November 29, 2005. None of the alternatives in that document examined the environmental impacts and dangers of handling Category I/II special nuclear material in the absence of a regular, ongoing commensurate level of security. The presently proposed situation wherein LLNL is not authorized to handle plutonium bomb cores, but does so regularly on the basis of multiple variances, was not considered. Nor was that scenario analyzed in any subsequent NEPA document at LLNL, including in the site’s 2011 “supplement analysis” to the 2005 SWEIS.  

Due to the significant steps already taken to develop this novel proposal to bring plutonium pits to LLNL from LANL following Livermore’s long-planned security reductions, a stand alone NEPA analysis of this proposal and all of the reasonable alternatives to this plan should be scoped and prepared as soon as possible. Or, in the alternative, “Plan B” should be changed to preclude this ill-advised and potentially illegal activity.

Safer alternatives exist and must be examined

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations call on DOE NNSA to appropriately and comprehensively examine all reasonable alternatives, as mandated by NEPA. Such analyses must include the alternative of foregoing use of this diagnostic altogether, or of moving the diagnostic to a NNSA site with Category I/II security in place. Moreover, we urge DOE NNSA to consider first the alternatives that would not put plutonium bomb cores on the road unnecessarily.

We thank you in advance for your urgent attention, and we await your timely response.

We would be happy to answer any questions you or your offices might have. Please contact either Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs, 2582 Old First Street, Livermore, CA 94550, (925) 443-7148, marylia@trivalleycares.org, or Jay Coghlan, Executive Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, 903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM, 87501, (505) 989-7342, jay@nukewatch.org.

 

Sincerely,

Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs, and Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, for;

NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

A.J. Muste Memorial Institute
New York, NY
Jane Guskin, Co-Director

Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
Washington, DC
Katherine Fuchs, Program Director

Beyond Nuclear
Takoma Park, MD
Linda Gunter, Co-founder

Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World
Oakland, CA
Katie Heald, Coordinator

Institute for Policy Studies
Washington, DC
Robert Alvarez, Senior Advisor

National Green Party
Washington, DC
Jenefer Ellingston, Delegate

Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Takoma Park, MD
Michael Mariotte, Executive Director

Physicians for Social Responsibility
Washington, DC
Catherine Thomasson, MD, Executive Director

Project On Government Oversight
Washington, DC
Danielle Brian, Executive Director

 

REGIONAL, STATE AND LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

American Friends Service Committee, US West Region
San Francisco, CA
Stephen McNeil, Coordinator

Central Valley Air Quality Coalition
Fresno, CA
Kevin Hall, Director

Citizen Power
Pittsburgh, PA
Ted Robinson, Staff Attorney

Clean Water and Air Matter
Kern County, CA
Renee Nelson, President

Coalition for a Nuclear Free Great Lakes
Monroe, MI
Michael J. Keegan, Coordinator

Colorado Coalition for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Denver, CO
Bob Kinsey, Director

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
Santa Fe, NM
Joni Arends, Executive Director

Don’t Waste Arizona
Phoenix, AZ
Stephen M. Brittle, President

Don't Waste Michigan
Holland, MI
Alice Hirt, Director

Ecological Options Network, EON
Bolinas, CA
Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle, Co-Directors

Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned
Berkeley, CA
Janet Gibson, Board President, and Carolyn Scarr, Program Coordinator

Environmentalists Against War
San Francisco, CA
Gar Smith, Co-founder

Global Community Monitor
El Cerrito, CA
Denny Larson, Executive Director

Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
San Francisco, CA
Bradley Angel, Executive Director

JustPeace
Dallas, TX
Mavis Belisle, Coordinator

Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Santa Fe, NM
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director

Nuke Free North County/San Diego
Carlsbad, CA
Ace Hoffman, Founder

Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
Oak Ridge, TN
Ralph Hutchison, Coordinator

Peace Action New York State
New York, NY
Alicia Godsberg, Executive Director

Peace Action West
Oakland, CA
Jon Rainwater, Executive Director

Peace Farm
Amarillo, TX
Jerry Stein, Board President/Coordinator

PeaceWorks, Kansas City
Kansas City, MO
Henry Stoever, Chair, Board of Directors

Physicians for Social Responsibility, Kansas City Chapter
Kansas City, MO
Ann Suellentrop, M.S.R.N., Program Director

Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security (PRESS)
McDermott, OH
Vina Colley, Director

Residents Organized for a Safe Environment (ROSE)
San Clemente, CA
Gene Stone, Spokesperson

Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center
Nuclear Nexus
Boulder, CO
Judith Mohling, Coordinator

SF-Bay Area Chapter, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Berkeley, CA
Robert Gould, MD, President

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace
San Luis Obispo, CA
Jane Swanson, Spokesperson

Snake River Alliance
Boise, ID
Liz Woodruff, Executive Director

Social Justice Center of Marin
Marin Peace and Justice Coalition
Marin County, CA
Jonathan Oldfather, Coordinator

Southwest Research and Information Center
Albuquerque, NM
Don Hancock, Nuclear Waste Program Director

Tri-Valley CAREs
Livermore, CA
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, and Scott Yundt, Staff Attorney

West County Toxics Coalition
Richmond, CA
Dr. Henry Clark, Executive Director

Western States Legal Foundation
Oakland, CA
Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director

Women’s Energy Matters
Fairfax, CA
Barbara George, Executive Director

INDIVIDUALS/FORMER GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Retired)*
Dr. Roger Logan,
First Head of Directed Stockpile Work (DSW), LLNL

Les G. Miklosy, PE
Mechanical Engineer
Laguna Beach, CA

Mel Kernahan
Laguna Woods, CA

 

*For identification purposes only

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